'We dragged our heels' after sexual abuse allegations, foster care service director says in secret recording
'We literally just left those kids to sit there and be victimized,' says B & L Resources case manager
A director with a for-profit Manitoba foster care company said he failed to act quickly enough after allegations of sexual abuse emerged in a home it oversees, according to a secret recording obtained by CBC News.
"We dragged our heels big time," the director of foster care services for B & L Resources for Children, Youth and Families says in the 2017 recording.
"The damage is done and it has been ongoing for probably as long as the kids have been there," the director is heard saying in the recording.
They've failed to protect my family.- Parent of alleged victims
Allegations emerged in 2016 that children were being sexually abused by a minor in one of the homes B & L oversees.
The company is paid millions each year by the province of Manitoba to provide foster care services. It recruits foster parents, monitors what happens inside the homes and writes monthly progress reports about the children.
The abuse allegations, which involved more than one child and included inappropriate touching and a sex act, were eventually substantiated by child welfare investigators.
The biological parent of the children claims to have first reported allegations to a worker at Metis Child, Family and Community Services Agency months before B & L became aware of them.
Metis CFS is the children's legal guardian and has ultimate responsibility for the safety of children. The agency hired B & L to recruit and oversee the children's foster family.
We really dragged our feet. That is not acceptable. It never is and it never will be, and I take some of the responsibility too for that.- B & L director of foster care in secret recording
It's unclear what Metis CFS did with that initial allegation, or whether it notified B & L, although the agency says it acted as soon as the parent made the disclosure.
"They've failed to protect my family," said the parent, who CBC News is not identifying to protect the identity of the children.
"People need to be accountable for what they've done or have not done in this case," said the parent, who is in frequent contact with the children.
'We just sat and allowed it to happen': case manager
It was months after the parent disclosed the information that the allegation was raised in a B & L meeting.
Once the decision was made by Metis CFS to change the children's living arrangements, five days elapsed before the children were finally separated from the alleged abuser. It took that long for B & L to sort out new living arrangements, according to the recording.
"We literally just left those kids to sit there and be victimized," a B & L case manager is heard saying in the 2017 recording. "We just sat and allowed it to happen."
B & L's number one job is about providing a safe environment for children in our care.- B & L managing director Bruce Bertrand-Meadows
The case manager was not directly involved with the children's care, but became aware of the allegations and says she repeatedly asked the agency to take action to make sure the children were safe.
Frustrated, she confronted her supervisor and the agency's foster care director with concerns about how the matter was handled. She secretly recorded the meeting and resigned from the company a few months after.
Listen to secret 2017 recording of director of foster care services
"We really dragged our feet," the B & L director of foster care is heard saying in the recording. "That is not acceptable. It never is and it never will be, and I take some of the responsibility too for that. I was aware of certain things, but this should never be to this stage for any of our workers to have to sort of fight us and fight the system."
In the recording, the case manager's supervisor agreed that too much time passed before acting, adding, "We did talk to them [the foster family] about a safety plan."
A safety plan may include measures such as separating children in the home and increased supervision, according to a provincial spokesperson.
It is not clear if B & L staff went to the foster home to make sure the safety plan was being followed.
B & L responds
In a written statement, B & L managing director Bruce Bertrand-Meadows, who was not one of the people heard on the recording, said he cannot comment on any specific case because of child welfare laws.
Bertrand-Meadows noted the CFS agency is responsible for identifying any specific care or supervision needs that may be required during and after an abuse investigation.
"B & L immediately responds to any such requirements from CFS agencies and advocates for additional precautions whenever deemed warranted," wrote Bertrand-Meadows.
"B & L's number one job is about providing a safe environment for children in our care," he said.
'Not-so-great foster parents'
The director of foster care seems to personally take much of the blame for the situation in the 2017 recording.
"Sometimes the system gets in the way," the director is heard saying. "But we have to stop whatever is going on as soon as we hear about it, and we fell down here."
If we are incapable of handling our foster kids, then why did we last [for nearly 15 years]?- Foster father
He also indicates other players in the system are responsible, though.
"When it is an abuse investigation, when we have vulnerable kids with not-so-great foster parents, it's really up to us," the director said in the recording.
The foster father, who had been contracted by B & L for nearly 15 years, disputes that there were problems.
"If we are incapable of handling our foster kids, then why did we last?" asked the foster father in an interview with CBC News. He said he and his wife decided to quietly leave B & L.
On the recording, the director of foster care for B & L talked about how, in his previous child protection job, he would make sure an alleged victim and offender would not be allowed to be around each other until an investigation was completed.
In addition to the foster parents and Metis CFS, another agency was eventually called in to investigate — Child and Family All Nations Coordinated Response Network (ANCR).
"Whether we think that [Metis CFS] has dropped the ball — it doesn't really matter," said the director.
"Whether we think ANCR has dropped the ball — it doesn't really matter. It is up to us to follow through because we are the hands-on people here and we have to make some of those decisions, and I think we tried to do [that]."
We're always behind the 8-ball in these situations. We can't step up to our own defence because if we do, we're going to be disclosing information that is confidential.- Metis CFS Authority CEO Billie Schibler
ANCR investigates allegations of child abuse on behalf of Winnipeg-area child and family service agencies such as Metis CFS.
"I would anticipate if we made a decision that had a negative impact on children in care of Metis Child and Family Services that my partner agency would want us to be aware of that so it doesn't occur again," said ANCR executive director Sandie Stoker, who would not comment on the specifics of the case but confirmed no complaints came to her.
"If we erred, I believe I would have been made aware of it."
Stoker also pointed out the recourse available when there are disagreements in the system.
"If B & L was not satisfied with Metis CFS's response, they could have, under the [Child and Family Services] Act, made a referral directly to ANCR."
'We can't step up to our own defence'
Metis CFS Authority CEO Billie Schibler said she could not comment on the specifics of the case but said as soon as the parent made the agency aware of the allegations, they were acted on.
"We're always behind the 8-ball in these situations. We can't step up to our own defence because if we do, we're going to be disclosing information that is confidential," said Schibler, who speaks for the entire Metis CFS system.
"It always looks bad on us because we can't share what we know about the other parts of the story."
In the 2017 recording, B & L points the finger at Metis CFS for not responding adequately to the situation.
"We are running into an agency here that is not getting it to a great degree," the foster care director is heard saying on the recording.
The director says when CFS agencies don't act, the company needs to push back and say the situation is unacceptable.
My children need to get therapy. They need to learn to be OK with that.- Parent of alleged victims
"If we are going to have a premium program here … [it's about] doing the dirty work and making sure that the people who ultimately have the power have all the information," the director says in the recording.
"And if they are not responding the way we think they should be, and on behalf of the kids, then ... it's our responsibility," the director says.
A Metis CFS spokesperson said the agency is not able to respond to B & L's director's comments.
"[Schibler] would not be able to comment on third-party information, nor does she know the full context of which these alleged statements were made," wrote George Kolomaya in an emailed statement.
The parent who spoke to CBC News worries about how the children will heal.
"My children need to get therapy. They need to learn to be OK with that," the parent said.
"It's good that they talked and spoke up."
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